Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Whitechapel: London's Dodgy End of Town

The other night I started watching a new series that I find extremely interesting, a BBC production (my favorite stuff) called WHITECHAPEL.
Of course, for all you Brit history fans, it calls to mind the infamous, and never caught, Jack The Ripper! All his horrendous murders took place in the dodgy east end section of London called Whitechapel.
This new production, set in modern-day London, pits a new and energetic detective inspector against a copy-cat Ripperesque murderer, the action taking place in the Whitechapel area. This enthusiastic DI steps into a rather jaded group of police men, who aren't a very big help at all. They laugh at his theory that someone is committing Jack-style serial murders, until a pattern starts emerging! Aha! He who laughs last laughs best!
Anyway, I started investigating Whitechapel, and found some interesting things that happened in the area before the famous crimes (a product of the late 1800's).
In May 1797 a sailor named Richard Parker was hanged for leading the Nore Mutiny (a port area down the Thames), and was given a Christian burial at St. Mary Matfelon in Whitechapel after his wife exhumed his body from unconsecrated ground, the site of the original burial. Crowds gathered to see the body and honor the man who played a major role in the mutiny, in what is called "THE FLOATING REPUBLIC".

Parker was assigned to the HMS Sandwich, regarded as one of the worst ships of squalid and overcrowded conditions. Parker organized the mutineers, and was eventually appointed as "President of the Delegates of the Fleet". The mutineers created a blockade of the Thames, with only ships bearing a pass sign allowed to continue up river.

In June of that year, he organized a meeting to submit a petition and ultimatum addressed to the Fleet of the sailor's grievances, but increasing tension led his fellows to abandon him, and then the government put a price on his head. There was a reward for turning him in of 500 pounds, (equivalent to 40,000 today - about $60,000). Parker was arrested on June 13, and executed on board the Sandwich.
Fortunately for him, he was not publicly"gibbetted" after death, the term for further assault on the body. Yikes! (Remember the cutting off of limbs and having them sent to the four corners of the land?!)

By the way, the St. Mary of Matfelon Church has an interesting aspect to its name. The church is situated prominently in the center of town, where in the 18th Century, the population was expanding with more and more people moving in to take up industrial positions in the factories nearby. The word "matfelon" supposedly comes from the Hebrew word "matfel" which signifies a woman recently delivered of a son -- the Virgin Mary, in other words, or Mary matri en filio, corrupted to Matfelon. Interesting, as there were many Jews that were situated in this east-end area.
Also, the name Whitechapel stems from the many white washed buildings, including the church, that stood at the time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Amazing Grace: How Sweet the Sound!

The sound of Freedom is always sweet, but generally not gained easily.
This weekend I viewed a film that a friend of mine loaned me, saying that I probably would enjoy it, and enjoy it I did!

AMAZING GRACE, the story of Englishman William Wilberforce and his struggle to bring an end to the slave trade. In the late 1700's, he was an activist for the cause of the abolition of slavery. He was a member of Parliament inthe House of Commons for the Yorkshire district.

Through the East India Company, England was enjoying a profitable income from the slaves brought over from Africa, sold to work on the plantations in the West Indies. One of the most appalling aspects of this endeavor was the way in which the slaves were taken against their will from their homes in African villages (not only rounded up by the English, but also sold off by their own people), then enduring a 2-3 week hourney on shipboard, chained in the hull for the duration in an area approximately 14" wide by 8' long per person, fed little or no food or water. Forced to stay chained in a tiny space, remaining in their own waste, they eventually succumbed to dysentery or other horrendous infections or maladies, a great percentage of them dying along the way, and being dumped overboard. Those that died under such conditions were probably the lucky ones. Of the estimated 11 million Africans transported into slavery, about 1.4 million died during the voyage.

Wilberforce soon saw the greed of the government isolate him from most of his contemporaries who looked the other way on this issue. he did have the help and support of his Prime Minister William Pitt (at left), who helped rally helpful people around Willian. By persistence he eventually exposed man's inhumanity to man, and the slave trade was abolished, but long after he championed the cuase for change. His health declined later in life, but he had made great strides toward change, and though he died before he saw that change, Parliament did pass the Slavery Abolition Act in 1834, a month after his death. By the way, William also championed other humanitarian causes including the formation of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Wilberforce is buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey in London, close to his friend Pitt.

The film, with its most excellent British cast, portrays the players and the times to perfection. Well worth the watch!

Thursday, June 21, 2012


The other night I watched a wonderful program on PBS, The Monarchy: The Royals at Work. It was fascinating to see the everyday schedule of Queen Elizabeth I, and her day at Buckingham Palace, or out and about around the world.
One of the things I found so very interesting was how her staff prepares for special state functions, dinners for dignitaries, with all the precision and pomp required. Even measuring the plates, silverware and stemware from the edge of the table, all these items looking like soldiers standing at attention!

We were even given a tour of the Buckingham Cellars, where the wines are kept for these banquets. The original cellars are from 1706, and house wines that go way, way back, about 25,000 of them! Of course, there were very old wines that will probably never be opened, but there are loads of them that will. The oldest right now is from 1815.

The original cellars were part of Buckingham House that existed on the ground well before the Palace,built in 1705, belonging to the Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, John Sheffield. It was designed by William Winde, and is now incorporated into the facade of the current Palace.
Sheffield was a Tory politician during the Stuart era in England, and you can imagine the evenings at Buckingham Hall, going down to the cellars, and dusting off a lovely port to serve his guests after dinner.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Here's to the Red, White and Blue!

On this day in 1777, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia adopted the "Stars and Stripes" as the national flag of the United States. The Flag Resolution stated "Resolved: that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."

Betsy Ross is credited with sewing up this first patriot effort for the new nation. She and her husband owned an upholstery business, and were good friends of George Washingon. As the story goes, George brought a scetch of his vision for the flag to Betsy, who got right to work!

Her home in Philadelphia is shown here at left, and her finished product below.

In honor of the day, I think I will go home and make a red, white and blue tart to honor the occasion. Basically, on a baked sweet pastry shell, even Pillsbury  pre-made dough will do, place some vanilla custard (recipes abound on-line), and arrange various blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries on top. I would think a nice glass of not-too-dry champagne would go very well with this, along with a toast to the Red, White and Blue! Hip, Hip, Hoorah!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Sound of Silence!

Daily, we are inundated with sound. Of course, there is sound we choose to listen to, but then there is the annoying, unnerving, irritating, sometimes even terrifying noise that permiates our everyday existence. It never ends: there is noise from the air space above including planes or helicopters, from automobiles racing past our window, from police or ambulance sirens on their way to an accident or crime, the relentless hum of computers, the "noise" we call music that pulses from a car next to us at a stoplight. (What kind of music can that be, and how loud must it be played to be effective?). There is the television, constantly on, whether watched or not. There are the hideous jingles of cel phones alerting us to an in-coming, and ever-so-important call. Over time, we have gotten used to an ever-ascending decibel level.
It made me think about the sounds of 18th Century life. For one thing, there was no electricity, so there could be no television, radio, telephones, computers. There were no planes, trains, or automobiles. Right away, there is more silence. If you wanted to hear music, apart from a pianoforte or fiddle (for the most part) in your individual home, you could only hear orchestral music at a gathering, in a salon or concert hall (and it was not replayed; you had to listen intently in the first place - no multi-tasking allowed!).

If you went into your formal garden, you could hear water from a water-feature or fountain; if in the countryside, a babbling brook. You could definitely hear birds chirping, singing, fluttering their wings. Whether walking alone or with a partner, you could hear footsteps, and if you chose to do a little horse-back riding, you could hear the clop-clop of horses hooves. If you lived in the city, you might hear church bells peeling on a Sunday morning, calling the faithful to church, or the whirring wheels of a carriage. If you lived on a farm or plantation, you might hear the call of slave workers in the field, or perhaps a bit of their work song, the ryhthmic acapella songs intended to increase productivity while reducing feelings of boredom. You might even, unfortunately, hear the whipping of a disobedient servant, or the cry of a child.

As evening came on, you would probably hear even less, perhaps only the sound of a cricket chirping, or a fire crackling in the hearth, or the scratching of a quill pen on parchment on a candle-lit desk.

The more quiet the environment, the more one's ears tend to focus on incredibly small sound. Even snow can be heard, muffled drops of white falling quietly. Or torments of rain and the crack of thunder in the far distance.

Imagine how incredible it would be to really hear! In an undisturbed environment. It is in this kind of silence in which great inspiration has come, the writing of timeless stories, poetry and music that still endures, letter-writing and conversation that brought real intimacy. Our world today "enjoys" instant communication and we have the entire world at our fingertips, but at what price? We bore easily, we crave more stimulous, as if it is a drug, and we multi-task, as if we will miss out on something.

Take time for silence. You may hear something amazing!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Flown the coop!

Just a quick post to say that the doves have flown the nest! It's exciting, but it's also sad, too.
I have been watching them daily for a couple months. This morning, I looked out the window to find only one bird in its familiar place! I was shocked!
Then, off it flew, and the next thing I knew, I saw it perched on a fence across the street along with its sibling and parent.

And, so, there it is......................Now you see them!

And, now you don't!

And, if you look closely, you will see the three of them on the fence (below) across the street.

And the moral of the story is.......................enjoy the moment!
Nothing lasts forever,
BUT, there is always something new to look forward to.
Enjoy your week ahead, and keep an eye open for something wonderful.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

This week, I attended a session of the City Council for an issue regarding one of our projects. Though today's council chambers are filled with the latest technology, including large flat screen tv's, closed circuit television, and attendees with iphone, ipads, laptops, etc., the idea of participation in local government, voicing grievances, asking for support, presenting new ideas, is what the Founding Fathers had in mind, what lead the American Colonists to seek self-government, which culminated in the Glorious Revolution and the formation of the United Statesof America.

By definition, a city or town council is the legislative body that governs a city or municipality where people can come forward with ideas for the greater population or the greater good, heard by an impartial elected body. Historically, cities grew where people gathered to conduct business, the trading of goods and services. In the Middle Ages, faires were conducted for this purpose, in a central area or crossroads. Originally set up for a couple days, these markets fgrew, and with this growth and permanence some sort of government was need to be established to jkeep order, and promote equity in business dealings.

By the 18th Century, with the growth of modern industry and urbanization, came the rise of great cities, and larger government, but the beauty of the city or town council remains in that it is the forum for discussion of issues that affect the local population. Of course, the Founding Fathers were rightfully suspicious of government, and looked to create laws that spoke to an issue without inordinately binding the population, restricting their liberties. So, they often were quoted as stating that government was a necessary evil:

It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government. - Thomas Paine

The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing." - John Adams





Wednesday, June 6, 2012

R.I.P., Captain Morgan!

Today I mark the passing of my Zebra Finch, aka Captain Morgan, who I had in my keeping for about eight years. He was born in captivity, and was a hearty little thing, until about 3 years ago. I kept Zebra Finchs for many years, and eventually they all died, but the Captain outlived them all. Becoming more and more fragile, his tiny claws began to atrophy, and one of his eyes began to shut (hence, illusions to eye patches, pirates, rum, "Arrghh!", etc). I joked that he was now in assisted living. I even placed his food where he could more easily find it. He liked to sit up high on a little shelf in the cage where he could look out, (if he din't fall out! Ha ha !) I fed him finch seed, though he LOVED millet, and an occasional bit of bread, be it sweet, i.e. Pannetone, Greek Tsoueki, whatever.

I found him the morning of June 4th at 5:30am at the bottom of the cage, and gave him a proper burial in the garden below my balcony. I decided I will never again keep a caged bird. Though they bring joy and a sweet song, birds are meant to soar, and enjoy the freedom of flight. This morning, I will miss his little "beep", but I know he is in a better place.

I remembered that Mozart kept a little bird, too, a STARLING, (shown at left) that he even wrote about to his father in a letter dated May 27, 1784. He named it Vogel Star, and noted that it could imitate his compositions! Starlings are great mimics.

Mozart even noted Vogel's expense in a notebook, and jotted down "That was fine!" when relating the bird's whistle compared with a piano theme he got it to learn. Vogel Star, unfortunately, died three years later, and Mozart gave his beloved pet a special burial, with veiled mourners in attendance. He even wrote a poem tribute as an obiturary:

Here rests a bird called Starling,
A foolish little Darling.
He was still in his prime
When he ran out of time,
And my sweet little friend
Came to a bitter end,
Creating a terrible smart
Deep in my heart.
Gentle reader! Shed a tear,
For he was dear,
Sometimes a bit too jolly
And, at times, quite folly,
But nevermore
A bore.
I bet he is now up on high
Praising my friendship to the sky,
Which I render
Without tender;
For when he took his sudden leave,
Which brought to me such grief,
He was not thinking of the man
Who writes and rhymes as no one can.

Our pets give us great joy, but we are only their caretakers for the time they spend with us. They belong to God, one of the most beautiful parts of His Creation. Innocent, loving, generous, and loyal, our pets deserve our respect and love in return. R.I.P., Captain Morgan - you will be long remembered! And so, I write this little poem for you:

Farewell, my Captain!
On to sail another sea
Fair wind and tide, I hope, will follow thee.
A voyage of Light be found
Where eternal joy and peace abound.
No limits, to soar with wings unfurled
And, there to discover the Uncharted World.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Strike a Pose! Madonna has nothing on this gal!

Emma Hamilton, better known as Lady Hamilton, mistress to Admiral Lord Nelson, and the muse of artist painter George Romney. She was born 26 April, living until 15 January 1815. Her story is quite interesting, as she was quite progressive and rather scandalous for the times.

As a child of 12, she worked as a maid for a quack Doctor in Chester, England, eventually meeting another maid who was an aspiring actress. This inspired her to seek out the stage as well, wher she started working at the Drury Lane Theatre in London. Her dreams of greatness were not realized, and she moved on to "act" as hostess and entertainer to Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh. She was only 15, became pregnant with his child (what became of the child is little known), but she was now among the movers and shakers, and met many titled folk, including Charles Francis Greville, Earl of Warwick. He was dull, but influencial, and she soon became his mistress.

At this time, Greville had her painted many times, by artist Romney. These works are immortal, and show Emma at her very best. Greville through lavish living beyond his means needed to find a wealthy wife, and so he pawned Emma off to his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, who had seen her paintings, and was smitten, indeed. Hamilton took her to Naples, where she resumed her "entertaining" among the European glitterati. Not long after, she met Admiral Nelson, and he became her champion. Of course, Lord Hamilton was older, and Nelson a younger, and more attractive man, let alone a man in uniform!
Emma set her cap on him, even taking to wearing military inspired clothing, anchor style earrings, and the like.

Also, at this time, Emma began what she called her "Attitudes", an entertainment where she assumed classical poses, in skimpy, gauzy, revealing dress, moving by posturing, dancing, and acting in slow motion, appearing statue-like.

Nelson was thunder-struck, having left a dutiful, responsible and rather plain English wife back home. This other type of woman was something completely apart from the norm. They began a torrid affair, which the admiralty frowned on, but Nelson continued the liasion. On his deathbed, at the battle of Trafalgar, he asked his first officer Hardy to see that Emma would be looked after. By this time he had a child, a little girl, Horatia, with Emma. Of course, there was nothing provided for Emma by the British Navy. She lived as long as she could at Merton (Nelson's home with her), and then riddled with debts, even a stay in debtor's prison, she made her way without the child who was left to relatives, to Calais. Her life sank, drinking, and she died in January 1815 of amoebic dysentery -- an illness she probably contracted during her years in Naples.

Suffice it to say, she lived the high life, until it got the best of her. I recall Madonna's VOGUE song:

Ladies with an attitude
Fellows that were in the mood
Don't just stand there, let's get to it
Strike a pose, there's nothing to it

Vogue, vogue
Vogue, vogue

Let your body move to the music
Ooh, you've got to just
Let your body go with the flow!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Who is that Masked Man?!

I have taken the liberty over the past few days to talk about my doves and their progress, though they have nothing to do with the 18th Century (though their name, Chalumeau, is a musical instrument developed from that period), but now I head back to the Enlightened Age!

I am scheduled for a trip to the opera very soon - Don Giovanni, to be exact, and I am excited about it!
One of Mozart's greatest works, it premiered on October 29, 1787 at the Teatro di Praga, Prague's great opera house. Lorenzo da  Ponte, the famous libretist, worked with Mozart on it, the two of them the Rogers and Hammerstein of their age.

It's dramatic with flashes of comedy, typical of the "opera buffa", with the lead character, Don Giovanni, a young, arrogant, sexually-promiscuous noble finally getting what's coming to him. Finally undone, he is cast, well-deservedly, into the fiery flames of hell!

Masks are used in the play, typical of the age. The idea of disguise goes far back, associated with the Venetian Carnivale before Lent (carne: meat; val; to leave behind, forego). Originally, the masks were used to heighten the festivities at the masked balls, adding to the mystery and playfulness, flirtation. They were popular until the 18th Century, when one event, in particular, had fatal results.

Gustav III of Sweden was assassintated at a masquerade ball by a disgruntled nobleman, the event being later documented by Guiseppe Verdi's opera, "A Masked Ball", though the names and places were changed to, as they say, protect the innocent! Are there really any innocents at a masked event! Ah! The anonymity!

The Venetian masks are very specific in their design and theme. There are five in particular that were used. In one of Mozart's letters to his father (March 12, 1783), he explains that at a pantomime he is producing, he will be Harlequin, and his sister-in-law will be Columbine.

The Venetian masks include:

1) The Bauta, which covers the whole face, with a square jaw. The wearer also includes a red  or black cape and tricorn hat. This was the dress for a politcal figure, and the wearer obliged to wear the mask when voting to insure freedom and equality in decision-making.

2) The  Columbine, a half mask often highly decorated with gold, silver, crystals and feathers. It is held up to the face by a baton or tied with ribbon. It was popularised by an early actress designed for her because she did not wish to have her beautiful face covered completely.

3) The Plague Doctor, with long beak, was adopted for treating plague patients while maintaining distance and sanitation. The eyes had crystal discs set over the holes.

4) The Moretta, strapless mask worn by patrician women, it depicted the mute servant. The wearer bit onto a peg-like wooden piece mounted inside the mask, and therefore could not speak.

5) The Volto, or larva, white, worn with a tricorn. Larva meaning ghost.  They could depict a sad face with tears, like the one below.

18th Century culture was much occupied by the concept of the Mask. The shifting or disguising of identity, reveals an interesting aspect of society at the time - ANXIETY, and the ability to put that stress away for a space of time. Wearing the mask also allowed for POSSIBILITY that is not necessarily allowed when a society is fixed where one must conform to fit in.
That's why we all love Halloween, or a costume event where we can try on "someone" else!